The Wiener Library Early Years Cataloguing Project
Alfred Wiener at his desk at the Library in Manchester Square in the 1950s
The Wiener Library is delighted to announce that it has been awarded a grant of £30,000 from the National Archives’ Cataloguing Grants Programme, to fund a special project of cataloguing the Library’s own archive of correspondence and organisational papers. The material that will be catalogued includes approximately 90 boxes of documents produced during the first three decades of the Library’s work, from its founding in 1933 until Alfred Wiener’s death in 1964. Once catalogued and made available for researchers, this archive will be a valuable resource not only for learning about the Library’s history, but also for understanding the development of Holocaust consciousness in the UK.
The collection provides an insight into the Library’s activities during three crucial periods in the history of the Holocaust and the Nazi era. The first is the pre-war years, when the Library – then known as the Jewish Central Information Office (JCIO) – responded to the sharp rise of antisemitism in Germany and throughout Europe. The JCIO’s primary function was to gather and disseminate information, and the earliest material includes reports that were produced during that period in several European languages and distributed among organisations and individuals worldwide. Further pre-war activities included assisting German Jews to emigrate via the Netherlands in collaboration with other organisations, which is documented through correspondence on individual cases; and collecting eyewitness testimonies following the November Pogrom in 1938.
The second period is World War Two. The outbreak of war in September 1939 coincided with the relocation of the JCIO to London, and during the war its principal source of funding was the British Government which sought to acquire intelligence on Nazi Germany. The material from this period consists of internal reports and publications. Throughout the war, the organisation gradually became known as “Dr Wiener’s Library”, and was officially renamed in 1946.
Lastly, in the post-war years The Wiener Library was involved in key events and processes that occurred in the aftermath of the Holocaust. During the Nuremberg Trials, it assisted the prosecutors in finding evidence against the defendants. In return, it was given a set of over 3000 authenticated copies of trial documents with particular reference to the persecution of European Jewry. In the 1950s the Library began to systematically collect eyewitness accounts from Holocaust survivors, and the archive of related documents and correspondence reveal the methodology and implementation of this project, which produced approximately 1,300 testimonies.
In the immediate post-war years, public education on the Holocaust was in its initial stages. The material in the Wiener Library Archive provides insights into perceptions of the Holocaust before the early 1960s, when the Eichmann Trial triggered the first wave of international interest in the subject. The Library had a significant role in shaping Holocaust historiography, for example through the Wiener Library Bulletin – the world’s first periodical publication specialising in the history of the Holocaust and the Nazi era. The collection also includes correspondence and other materials relating to some of the foundational texts in Holocaust studies, such as Prof Alan Bullock’s biography of Hitler.
The Library is extremely grateful to the National Archives for their generous grant, which enables us to catalogue this important and fascinating collection. Work on this project will start early next year when a new Project Archivist will be recruited, with the intention of completing the cataloguing by spring 2018. Once catalogued, we plan to digitise the collection so that it will become even more accessible to students, researchers and the public.
Added: Wednesday 7th December, 2016